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Gippsland hosts first bushfire community forum
Gippsland recently hosted an Australian first community bushfire preparedness initiative.
The 'Gippslanders Living with Bushfire community conference' was an initiative developed and delivered by a handful of committed fire management personnel in Gippsland from CFA, DEPI, Parks Victoria Latrobe City and Federation University.
The aim of the conference was to bring together community members and a range of fire and emergency management academics, volunteers and agency personnel to openly discuss a range of issues related to bushfire, the environment and the community.
More than 300 community members attended the Federation University campus in Churchill over three days to actively participate in the conference.
The conference was delivered with two sub themes, including:
Bushfire and the environment
• How fire shapes our environment and our understanding of its impact
• How plants and animals recover after a fire event
• What research is taking place and how this can be used
Bushfire and the community
• Personal experiences gained over the past 15 years
• How at risk we are as a community and what we can do about it
• Understanding bushfire behaviour
• Research regarding household protection
The conference was jointly opened by Local member the Hon. Russell Northe MP. Minister for Energy and Resources; and Minister for Small Business with Grange Jephcott - Acting Chief Fire Officer, Department of Environment and Primary Industry.
Day one of the conference saw participants hear from leading academics including Associate Professor Kevin Tolhurst, Melbourne University, Dr Steve Leonard - Research Fellow, Latrobe University and Justin Leonard, Bushfire Centre for Cooperative Research , CSIRO.
Jim Whelan from Parks Victoria gave a memorable presentation addressing more than 200 years of fire management and history at Wilsons Promontory Nation Park. Industry practitioners including Justin Jemmerson - Melbourne Water, Andrew Blackett - DEPI Fire Ecology, and our own Owen Gooding presented on a range of subjects from Bushfire and carbon, Bushfire impacts on water and Fire ecology.
On the evening of day one a conference dinner was held with 100 community members and industry personnel discussing issues and networking. Key note speaker for the dinner was author and historian Professor Bill Gammage, from Australian National University.
The second day of the conference was jointly opened by Cr Sharon Gibson, Mayor of Latrobe City Council and CFA Vegetation Management Officer John Crane on behalf of the Chief Officer and the ACO for South East Region.
Day two of the conference was focused on bushfire and the community. Conference attendees participated in discussions and presentations addressing issues including Refuges and safer places – the latest thinking with John Melia (Emergency Management Victoria), Building houses to withstand fires presented by John Shaw (Victorian Building Authority), the effectiveness of planned burning was a very engaging presentation by Greg McCarthy, AFSM.
Latrobe City’s Coordinator Emergency Management Lance King discussed fire prevention and Community planning in Latrobe City.
Community members Bryce Azlin and Sueanne Claringbould gave a whole hearted and very pertinent account of how they as community members survived the Aberfeldy fire and worked to save their property. This really connected with conference attendees and provided a valuable 'personal account' of community and bushfire.
Rouve Forbes, Federation University Australia, discussed the psychosocial recovery of young adults following the 2009 bushfires in Gippsland and Local Trida Brigade captain Peter King spoke about how conference attendees can become living with bushfire champions within their communities sharing ideas and experiences in community engagement and preparedness.
Some 30 speakers worked with the conference participants in addressing a vast range of bushfire issues.
The conference also included a fire and emergency Trade Expo with information stalls from government agencies and authorities, industry local government and community groups.
CFA conducted a number of interactive workshops tor attendees addressing topics including: 'How to use fire ready meetings to prepare communities', 'How to prepare bushfire survival plans and community preparedness' and 'An introduction to CFA Burn Tables, their use and value as a community education tool'.
Day Two of the conference also saw Emergency Services Commissioner, Craig Lapsley share 'learnings since 2009'.
The final day of the conference consisted of field trips. Conference participants attended either a DEPI field trip discussing fire management and ecology, or a CFA field trip.
The CFA field trip visited the communities of Traralgon South and Callignee (both significantly impacted in 2009).
Conference participants attended the Callignee Community Hall where they were briefed on the fire behaviour of the Churchill fire in 2009 and its impact on the community. The memorial wall was visited where those communities whose lives were lost and their families were remembered.
CFA staff and local volunteers discuss and visit examples of well-prepared homes, pre AS3959 (pre 2009) homes, and homes built in accordance with AS3959 (post 2009). Participants took the opportunity to discuss and see first-hand how to prepare homes and discuss ideas of how to retrofit homes pre AS3959. Participants also worked through the process of assessing a property and discuss the value of the CFA Property Advice Services as a valuable tool for preparing communities living with bushfire.
The conference also included a well-attended emergency services equipment display. A range of appliances from CFA, DEPI, Parks Victoria and Hancock Victoria Plantations was well received and provided an excellent example of how all fire and emergency management industry partners work as one.
Congratulations to all those who attended and participated in the conference and to the conference steering committee:
DEPI: Peter West.
CFA: John Crane.
Latrrobe City: Lance King,
Parks Victoria: Andy Gillham,
Federation University: Wendy wright.